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The Trek Nation - Beating around the Beltran

Beating around the Beltran

By Caillan Davenport
Posted at December 29, 2000 - 11:41 PM GMT

It's depressing when the infamy of Voyager's backstage activities overshadows the show itself. With the latest splurge of Robert Beltran comments, the battle lines are clearer than ever. Most recently, Kate Mulgrew seemingly shot back her own response to Beltran's complaints, lambasting "lazy actors." The media hoopla that surrounds Voyager, however, seems to give all these comments a life of their own.

A report on November 30th, entitled "Mulgrew Criticises Lazy Actors," and billed by TrekToday editor Amy Hightower as "a thinly veiled attack on Robert Beltran," contains a transcript of an interview aired on the UPN9 station in America. At the end, the transcript states:

Mulgrew: That's a lazy actor's response. 'They didn't let me act'. Really? Go get a job in a cereal commercial. I just don't have any time for it. Of course, you can find every opportunity... Sit in this seat and say nothing. Do it! Be it! (turns towards second officer's chair) Lift it up! We're all trained here and we're, you know, compensated *very* nicely. Fandom.com's Star Trek Central also reported the interview, again emphasising Mulgrew's "lazy actors" comments:

Kate Mulgrew said in the interview "I don`t buy that for one minute. That`s a lazy actor`s response. `They didn`t let me act.` Really? Go get a job in a cereal commercial. I just don`t have any time for it. Of course, you can find every opportunity," she says turning to look towards Chakotay`s chair. "Sit in the seat and say nothing. Do it! Be it! Lift it up! We`re all trained here and we, you know, we`re compensated very nicely."

When I actually downloaded the interview, however, I think it is open to a different interpretation. Mulgrew is sitting in a chair at the front of the Bridge, not the Captain's chair. Thus, in order to turn towards the first officer's chair, she would have had to turn around completely, rather than simply turn her head, which is all that took place. Mulgrew often uses extravagant gestures, so it seems only natural that she would do so in this instance.

The editors of TrekToday and Star Trek Central made very different comments on their reports, however. Amy Hightower stated that "I'd say from that it's pretty obvious I misinterpreted what I saw." She then went on to say that it was in fact another Webmaster who mentioned Beltran's actions to her, who "noted to me that Mulgrew was turning towards Chakotay's chair while talking about 'lifting it up' and suggested that I include it in the transcript. As you can see, I did, trusting in his judgement and never actually went back to check the clip, so in that the fault is mine." Amy added that she thought it was pretty clear Mulgrew was talking about Beltran anyway, although she didn't offer any opinion on the matter.

Antony at Star Trek Central, however, said "I stand by what I wrote," adding that "when STC was more of an opinion/editorial site I think opinion was fair, but as we move to just news reporting I'm striving to be more neutral. I think I'm achieving that all the more now, but it's something that has to be done, and I may not always achieve. But also everyone inherently adds opinion to things."

Elaborating on this, Antony explained his reasoning. "With this particular item, as I said, I stand by what I wrote. No, she's not in her captain's chair. But not only is it plainly obvious who she's talking about, but she does sweep around that way when talking about that point. I felt her movement was enough to merit a mention. She also says about "sitting in the seat" which again refers to someone sitting in a seat very specifically. When she says "sitting in the seat" I think she is looking at the commander's chair. I've tried to do a screen grab, I'm unable to, but at time index 1.56 she does clearly look that way. The interviewer is in front of her, so who would she be speaking to in that direction?" Antony's comments show that there are obviously two, equally valid, interpretations of Mulgrew's interview, and also, that he continually strives to report as impartially as possible.

Now, I'm not condoning Kate Mulgrew's comments here, even though she didn't expressly mention Beltran by name. I'd rather the Voyager cast and crew didn't give any more interviews if they can be interpreted as a mudslinging match. It damages the show, and the franchise's integrity. However, as Antony mentioned, it's inevitable that opinions sneak in, even when we try to write objectively. The latest outburst of Beltran criticisms began with a UK Convention Report, posted at The Official Robert Beltran Homepage, and reported at Trek Today on July 7th. The report, written by Trek Today editor Christian Hohne Sparborth, consists of what he terms "highlights," which are all negative remarks made by Beltran about Voyager. However, upon close examination of the actual report, Beltran actually had some positive things to say about Voyager, none of which made it into the Trek Today report. Here's some positive "highlights" which I picked up on:

Q: Any memorable moments on the set?

RB: Well, yeah, six years worth! There are a lot that stand out, because we make it a point to make our ten, twelve, fifteen hours on the set as fun as possible. Otherwise we would all have quit a long time ago. But it's kind of hard to pinpoint. And there are kids here too. That's very limiting as far as telling some of our stories! But take it from me we have a lot of fun.

RB: But for the life of me, I never thought that I'd be on a Star Trek series, yet here I am. And I have no regrets.

Q: Do you think Star Trek is a very moral thing, with a very commendable ethic running through it?

RB: Yeah, in some ways it is. If you're an evolutionist, yes, it's your heaven, but if you're not you could quibble quite a lot with the show. It's very positive in a humanist sense.

Q: So what do you think of "The Fight"?

RB: I didn't think it was that bad! I appreciated the fact that I got to do something different.

And perhaps most tellingly, Beltran remarked on his fellow cast members, and although to some his impersonations of Robert Picardo and others may come off as slightly mean, he said that "You may get the impression I'm being catty, but we do this all the time to each other. I'm not doing anything I don't normally do in front of them." A comment such as this goes a long way towards highlighting the camaraderie on the Voyager set. (The full report can be found here.)

It would be incredibly naive of me to suggest that Beltran's comments on his UK tour were wholly positive about Voyager, because they weren't. However, he did make some positive remarks about Voyager, and it's good to hear the other side of the story. Rowan Green, creator of "The Borg Grail" website, also attended one of Robert Beltran's UK appearances, made the following comment in her report:

"Well, he is certainly very cynical about the whole thing. However, I found myself very much enjoying his dry sense of humour, and he had nice things to say as well. In the end I found that I like and respect him.

[....]

As I've already said he can be scathing (though with his [Beltran's] dry sense of humour, it's sometimes not clear how seriously his more biting comments should be taken)."

The comments take on an interesting dynamic when we hear from someone who was actually present at the time. Rowan Green's report more fully reflects Beltran's humour than any sensationalist soundbites ever could.

On the other hand, Beltran obviously isn't a science-fiction fan, full stop. His remarks on Star Trek extend far beyond Voyager, although some may like to think that he is only criticising the latter. Comments like "my analysis of Star Trek is that is gives the appearance of being very complex, and it's all done with smoke and mirrors" don't really do much to endear himself to the Trek community. Often, it's difficult to tell whether he is genuine or just pulling your leg, but I'd say in this case that he doesn't really appreciate the genuine inspirational quality of Star Trek. Beltran himself admits that he doesn't read the full scripts anymore. Quite frankly, it smacks of not really caring.

The situation often seems like a Catch-22. The writers won't write good material for Chakotay because Beltran doesn't put much effort in, and Beltran won't pull his weight unless he gets better writing. If we look back on previous seasons, however, it is only in season six that Chakotay's role began to diminish slightly. In season five there was "Extreme Risk," "In the Flesh," "Timeless," "The Fight," and "Juggernaut" that all featured a lot of material for Chakotay's character, particularly in his relationship with B'Elanna and Janeway; many of the "Timeless" scenes were particularly moving in this regard.

"Equinox, Part II," the season six premiere, also featured some meaty scenes for Beltran, as did "Barge of the Dead," "One Small Step," "Memorial" and "Tsunkatse" although they were not specifically "Chakotay episodes." In all these instances, the material was there, so sometimes Beltran's comments do seem a little far-fetched. There's also something to be said for working within an ensemble cast, and not giving up. Mulgrew, in the above mentioned interview, talked about how "lazy actors" should "lift it up," which Beltran doesn't always do. Now, perhaps Mulgrew shouldn't have been so scathing in her comments, but Beltran was equally frank in his comments about the series. Maybe they should all grow up.

Ken Biller has said he can't do anything about Chakotay's character, which is plainly untrue. As Executive Producer, he could lobby for better writing and more fulfilling characterisation, but they need to work together with Beltran. Hopefully, with some good sense and collaborative thinking, they could push Chakotay's character further. It's never too late. But Beltran needs to contribute - "lift it up" seems like good advice to me.

The media places too much of an emphasis on sensationalism - why else would most websites concentrate on Mulgrew's "lazy actors" comment, as opposed to her thoughts on her character? Obviously just watching the show, learning about the characters and what makes them tick just isn't enough any more. Now we have to hear about every on-set quibble, every comment, every remark. Harking back to what I said in the last column - it's all about perception. Several cast members have remarked on the fact that their characters might die or become "tragic figure[s]", and this has often been interpreted that the cast members are unhappy with their roles. Couldn't this be interpreted that they want their character to go out with a bang? Mulgrew in particular, even with the infamous "go out in a coffin" comment, has only wanted what was best for her character, because she understands Janeway. I can't think of a more fitting end for our valiant captain than to see her go down with the ship. It works. It makes sense to anyone who watches the show.

Beltran does get material, good material. To say that Beltran has nothing to do but stand and spout technobabble is a wildly inaccurate generalisation, just like those people who say that Voyager has "no continuity." Beltran gets good material and Voyager does have continuity, it just takes people with some modicum of intelligence to actually spot subtlety. Sometime in the near future, I'd like to see the truth back in business.

Voyager is almost at the finishing gate, but if Beltran's not careful, he's going to be left behind.

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Caillan Davenport is moderator of the TrekBBS General Sci-Fi forum and is editor of the J-Team newsletter.

Starting in a couple of weeks, you will be able to find his 'A Briefing With Caillan' column series in our columns section. These columns are published in cooperation with Voyager Extreme.